A recent submission to Congress by Verizon reveals the extremely high volume of government surveillance requests and orders that telecoms face in the post 9-11 world. The Verizon letter, responding to questions from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, opens a window on a world that most Americans are unaware of: as a matter of course, telecommunications providers turn over subscriber information to a broad array of federal, state and local entities.
AT&T and Qwest also made submissions to the Committee, but those submissions were much less revealing. AT&T mostly reiterated its case for immunity and Qwest declined to provide any specific response to the Committee's inquiry. Whatever the shortcomings of Verizon's response, its willingness to provide real numbers and to answer many of the questions the Committee posed is to be applauded.
The numbers are remarkable. In 2005,Verizon received 90,000 "lawful requests and demands" for customer information associated with the company's wire line services, with 36,000 of those coming from federal officials. These numbers do not include any information or reference to Verizon's activities conducted in conjunction with classified intelligence gathering (the subject of well publicized litigation). While the debate in Washington has centered on unlawful warrantless surveillance, these numbers suggest that lawful surveillance practices - such as the government's increasing demands for records under very low standards -- merits closer scrutiny as well.
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